The Advocacy Beat Goes On

 

The 2019 Nevada Legislature is slated to adjourn on Monday, June 3, barring a last-minute extension.

When it ends, the presiding officer in each chamber adjourns the meeting “sine die.”  This is a Latin phrase, universally mispronounced, that translates literally as “without a day.”  It makes it sound terribly final, as if no one is ever coming back again.  We all know that two years from now many of the same people will be back, often confronting the same issues. 

The work of government goes on, even when the Legislature is not in session.

LEAN’s work continues as well.  Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists for two related reasons:  To speak out on behalf of the least among us to elected officials, and to Lutherans and others across the state.  Both groups have power to change things.

LEAN has a paid Advocate at the Legislature during the Session. Bill Ledford has done well in his first session, testifying about proposals that the LEAN Board has chosen to take a position on. Some of these bills have passed, some have not. Next month we will sort some of this out.  Right now, a lot isn’t known, because so much legislation is decided in the last few days of a session. “Backroom Deals” are unfortunately common.

A previous post here was about several reforms that had been postponed because they carry spending requirements. Such postponements help set up conditions ripe for backroom deals, because pressure to “just get finished” is huge.

The deadline also enhances the power of lobbyists.  In the final days, there isn’t time for careful analysis of bills, and there is a tendency for legislators to rely on lobbyists for information, biased as it might be.

This is why it is so important for LEAN to have an Advocate at the Legislature.  Bill Ledford has been working all session to establish personal relationships with Senators and Assembly Members.  He has worked to explain why particular measures are good or bad policy in a just society.  He has worked to articulate our Lutheran Christian values as outlined in the ELCA Social Statements.

Bill’s advocacy and that of LEAN generally does not end at “sine die” any more than legislators become just private citizens when they go back home.  Bill will continue to connect with them, sometimes to discuss plans to try again in the next session to pass measures that failed, sometimes to discuss interim studies that take place between sessions.

The “interim,” or time between sessions, also is a time for LEAN to focus more on parishioners, helping them to understand the issues and the various ways those issues might be addressed. 

Financial support is needed to keep all this work going.  LEAN receives funds from ELCA Churchwide, and from the Sierra Pacific and Grand Canyon Synods.  We also receive support from congregations throughout the two synods.  LEAN is grateful for all support, and we operate frugally.

We hope to emphasize the “engagement” part of our name more in the next eighteen months.  Many know about the Legislative website, and about the resources it offers for keeping informed and for expressing views on legislation.  This does not disappear when the session ends.  We hope to do some training so more people can learn the tools at their disposal.  We are blessed to live in a state where direct access to elected officials is easy.  Martin Luther viewed committed, informed citizenship part of our Christian calling, and this is echoed in the first ELCA Social Statement, “The Church in Society.”  A lot has been written lately about how individuals need to work to reclaim democracy from special interests.  LEAN hopes to work with Lutherans and legislators across the state toward that goal.

LEAN Advocates Become ‘Legislators’

By Sheila Freed

On August 7, Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada met at the Nevada State Senate for a role-play called ULegislate.  It was great fun, and in typical Lutheran fashion, the group questioned authority.

ULegislate is a learning experience in which participants play the roles of Senators and have floor debate on actual bills that passed in the 2017 Session.  On two of the three bills that were up for debate, LEAN voted the same way that the Legislature did.  However LEAN voted down the third, and the reason was quite Lutheran.  The bill, Senate Bill 322, requires every pupil in Nevada to pass a civics test before graduating high school.  This is a concept we can all support, and LEAN did.  However the bill has several exceptions, and the group did not like that.  We Lutherans embrace the “priesthood of all believers,” and take seriously the notion that all believers are equal before God.   So the majority voted no, in hopes that the bill would return in a more acceptable form.

Participants learned the rigid protocol of Senate business, and that much of the legislative process happens not on the chamber floors, but in committee meetings and legislators’ offices.  Here is where advocacy comes in.  Our paid Advocate meets with legislators individually to present the moral arguments on selected bills, with particular reference to the ELCA Social Statements.  Individual parishioners can do the same, either in person or by email, phone call, or letter.  The LEAN Advocate also testifies at committee hearings on selected bills.

The Senate staff was helpful and accommodating. They even made a video for us!

It’s great fun to watch, for several reasons.  First, you will learn some facts you may not know, and hear some arguments for and against the bills that you might not have thought of.  You will hear a bit of Bob Marley quoted! You will see people you know and those you don’t, so a roster of participants is included here.  LEAN is excited that people came from Las Vegas to participate, and that new people from both north and south were there.

“Senators” participating in ULegislate were:  Chad Adamik, Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Family, Carson City; John Biggs, Pastor of Saved by Grace, Pahrump; Veralyn Combs, member of Holy Cross, Reno; Ed Cotton, member of Community Lutheran, Las Vegas; Diane Drach-Meinel, Pastor of Christ the Servant, Las Vegas; Sonja Dresbach, member of Faith, Reno; Sheila Freed, member of Good Shepherd, Reno; Timothy Johnson, member of Lord of Mercy, Sparks; Bill Ledford, LEAN Advocate; Diane Ludlow, member of Holy Cross, Reno; Shaun O’Reilly, pastoral intern at Lord of Mercy, Sparks, Mike Patterson, retired pastor, Gift of Grace, Fernley; Barbara Peterson, member of Holy Cross, Sparks; Thomas Rasmussen, member of Saved by Grace, Pahrump; Pennie Sheaffer, member of Lord of Mercy, Sparks; Scott Trevithick, Pastor, Holy Cross, Reno; Ashlynne Valdez, member of Lord of Mercy, Sparks; Vic Williams, member of Good Shepherd, Reno.  “Secretary” of the Senate was Allan Smith, former LEAN Advocate.  If you want to learn more about LEAN, please connect with one of these folks.

ULegislate was just the first in a line-up of events designed to engage parishioners as LEAN moves into the 120-day 2019 Legislative Session.  Watch for “Pencils for Pupils” in January, followed by the LEAN kickoff lunch on February 4, the session’s first day.

A Holy Respite in the Legislative Fray

Conservatives and Progressives, Democrats and Republicans, Jews and Christians, together in the Nevada Legislative building together celebrating a Passover Seder…yes it actually happened. For a short time on April 7 politics was put aside and people from every persuasion joined in a learning moment to remember that the Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week shared a historical connection.

The director of Lutheran Episcopal Alliance in Nevada, Rev. Mike Patterson, was invited to this event and helped with the Host Committee. The leader for the meal was Cantor Bob Fisher who explained the ritual feast and why the Passover meal used the various elements to remember the Jewish history around the events in Egypt. The cantor also reminded those present that the Last Supper celebrated by most Christians was actually the Passover feast that Jesus and His disciples practiced on the night before the events of the crucifixion.

It was for many a time away from the divisive political atmosphere of the legislature and a time to remember what most of us share together. Everyone present was appreciative of the work done putting on this event by the Nevada legislative Jewish Council and the Host Committee.

Controversy in Indiana, Victory in Nevada

By Sheila Freed

There has been a lot of news coverage the past several days about Indiana. The legislature there passed and the governor signed a new law designed to protect religious freedom. The backlash has been immediate and significant, because the bill is seen as discriminatory against the LGBT community and potentially other groups. Several large corporations who do business in Indiana have said they will change their plans because of this law, and the result will be lost jobs and lost revenue to the state. But for an upswell of public concern — including a pushback in the media and among its voters — Nevada could have seen the same scenario play out here.

Assembly Bill 277 was introduced in the Nevada Legislature on March 12, 2015. The next day it was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. As of April 2, the bill had apparently died with no action. The “Nevada Protection of Religious Freedom Act” was nearly identical to the Indiana law. Defenders of the Indiana law said it’s just like a federal law passed in 1993, but in fact Indiana’s new law, and what could have been Nevada law, go much farther. Both say that a “person” has the right to practice religion free of government interference. However the definition of “person” which is specifically included in the proposed statute is a “natural person; or any form of business or social organization or other nongovernmental legal entity, whether or not the organization or legal entity is created, organized, or operated for profit.” The backlash in Indiana and potentially in Nevada is that this definition allows businesses to discriminate based on a claimed religious belief. The infamous Citizens United decision said that corporations have a right to free speech. This legislation effectively gives corporations freedom of religion as well. (Does that mean they have a conscience? Doubtful.)

There are a number of states that have similar “religious freedom” laws, most being in the Deep South. The Arkansas legislature just passed such a law, and even Wal Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, is urging the governor not to sign it. Passage of AB 277 would have had huge implications for the tourist/hospitality industry in Nevada, and could very well have negated all the incentives the state has given to Tesla and other businesses to bring them here. But, more measured minds prevailed. Our legislators not only observed and took seriously Indiana’s ill-considered passing of their own bill; they did the right thing and left Nevada’s to die.

That’s advocacy in action. With so many potentially damaging bills coming up for committee vote or full-on assembly or senate vote as the 2015 session enters its second half, let’s assure our voices keep being heard.

— with contributions from Vic Williams